An interview with Ofelia Hunt.
You just finished interviewing me (in fact, that just went public last night) for your blog. I found it a rewarding and uncomfortable experience. Knowing you as I do, I found myself forgetting that it wasn't a conversation for the public, but rather something happening between friends. On the other hand, because we're so close and I felt comfortable, generally, answering fully, I found myself talking and thinking about things I might not have otherwise. During the process, you mentioned that part of why you were doing this was to help you understand how and what you really thought about things. This, alongside my love for you, made me want to interview you right back. Did you find that the interview helped you come to any conclusions of your own? If so, which ones? And if not, why do you think that was the case?
I don't think I've come to any specific conclusions. Recently (the past several years), I've been obsessed with two interrelated questions. 1. What is the motivation for producing anything that does not fit into the market economy (poetry, non-genre 'literary' type writing, painting, etc...)? 2. What does it mean that I grew up one way ('trailer poor') and now live another way ('middle class')? I find writing enjoyable but not fun. There is no market for the writing I'm interested in. Or if there is, it is very small. I have in the past felt that I wanted to write something to make people feel 'sad'. Which seems like fucked goal, and one not worth attaining, and yet I keep pushing forward, feeling fairly absurd and useless. With regard to class, I often feel a strange dislocation. There are many mes, none of which align into a seamless whole. Adolescence: shoplifting, 'collecting' hood ornaments (primarily Cadillac), vandalizing (homes, cars, streetlights). Now: white collar job, child, home, dog, etc... My parents have almost never had health insurance (and they don't now). My mother's losing her teeth. And somehow I'm the most of aggressive Prius driver in the greater Portland area. I like absurdly obscure music, films, and books (at least in relation to mass culture). So, am I a class trader? Last year, I became obsessed with Godard's films and 'math rock'. When I was ten or eleven years old, our neighbor told my parents to make sure my siblings and I didn't go into his yard. He had a lot of drugs in his trailer, and he was worried someone might try to rob him. He didn't want to shoot us accidentally.
I guess I didn't answer your question completely, and so I should add this: I don't think I reached conclusions for a couple reasons. 1. I don't think it is possible to reach conclusions. 2. I think, over time, by interviewing or talking to a variety of people I may come to understand these things more without coming to any conclusions whatsoever. If that makes any sense at all.
In your answer, the issues you seem to be struggling with are centered around identity. In a class sense... how you bring your trailer upbringing to bear on your middle class lifestyle. The last time I was in Portland, you and Sarah complained that people kept mistaking your daughter for a boy. You also complained that it was impossible to find clothes for girls that were not gender identified for girls by being pink or frilly. While I was there, she was mostly dressed in greys, and blacks and navy blues, sometimes with skulls on them. You are also the super successful female identity/pseudonym for a male counterpart. You also refuse to listen to misogynistic rap music, despite your love of hip hop and the predominance of misogyny in contemporary hip hop music. How does a feminist ideology figure into your self-identification? And class?
It's difficult for me to be too theoretical here, so I will try to list a number of thoughts/questions that trouble me. Binaries and simplicity. Misogyny, in hip hop form, or any other, seems to operate only reductively. Today my coworker discussing a book he's reading about child-rearing, about how boys and girls must be treated differently because of a specific innate 'nature' (boys must be told to do their chores because boys do not think about chores/helping others without prompting (leadership?), girls do not need to be told to do their chores (team players?), etc...(he is preparing for the birth of his daughter)). I suppose asserting premises such as these simplifies existence by burying any troubling complexity beneath a burnished concrete veneer, or something, but I have a hard time believing that the brain of a human male and the brain of a human female differ much other than in proximity to floppy genitalia. My assumption is that the difference between any one brain and any other brain is greater than any gendered taxonomy. A neuro-scientist may tell me I'm wrong, but there it is. Gender appears to me to be a social construct. If this is the case, I'd prefer to privilege self over gender as much as possible. There are plenty of other folks in the world who will want to put their shit/assumptions on my daughter; I won't be one of them if at all possible (probably not possible). I fully assume that my daughter will be smarter, more talented, and in every way better than me. Gender, class, sexuality, race, or something. All ways to classify. I find most taxonomies ridiculous (and yet employ them daily). Amber is a hipster. I am a brain transvestite. My dog Jackson is a dog. I'm not sure how 'feminist ideology' fits into this. When I was young I was often pre-judged as 'trailer-trash'. Santorum would prefer gay families disappear via magic (the rapture?). Mitt Romney's not concerned about the very poor (he's making a social safety net with his lego-hair). I privilege the self/individual. I'm not sure this really answers your question. We're all tired of status-quo-ing it up.
I think you're right. I am a hipster. And you are a brain transvestite. In reading your response, I was struck by this thing you said: "If this is the case, I'd prefer to privilege self over gender as much as possible." And it strikes me because I find that my 'self' is in some ways shaped by my 'gender.' Granted, being a girl is only part of my whole 'self,' but definitely a shaping factor. I squat to pee, for instance. Also, when I was like 6 or 7, I began hating pink on the principle that it was supposed to be 'for girls.' It was reactionary, but still a part of my being a girl. Much the same way that, as a blond, I worked hard at being brainy so as to thwart any dumb blond stereotypes. All of this to say that gender seems to me a part of self. How do you define 'self' in order to privilege it?
I'm not 100% sure how to answer this. I guess, for me, this is where we get into complicated nature/nurture, chicken/egg conversations. On the nature side, I would place a person's genitals, particular hormonal makeup/system, or what have you. I guess maybe what I'll call a person's particular biology. On the nurture side, I'd place parenting, societal norms, education, dumb blonde stereotypes, the color pink, and a whole host of othering notions too long to list. I think of the nurture side as received information. Certainly this received information affects the self, modifies the self incrementally over time, through experience, but I feel as though I'd place this received information in a secondary position. To some degree it is parsable, controllable. One may rationally choose to accept the information or not. Perhaps this is where it's worth differentiating between 'sex' (biology) and 'gender' (culturally received characteristics). Sex is generally fixed. Gender seems fluid, and dependent on a ton of variables. I'd prefer to raise my daughter in a sort of neutral position so that she has the best opportunity to learn and choose her own roles. I think I'm also hanging on to some notion of soul or essence, or whatever, that exists pre-culture, pre-nurture (which surprises me). I don't think our biological characteristics play (or perhaps have to play) a large role in the definition of self. I think these ideas (however confused, and possibly contradictory) come directly from my thoughts on class. Culturally there seem to be notions of economic and biological determinism. If you start here, or with these parts, you will end up over here. I can't agree. Also, you're not really a hipster. I just typed that to 'get your goat' as it were.
I meant to mention, that I think the link below probably outlines what I'm trying to articulate better (particularly the parts about biological determinism)...
I'm also thinking that the very categorization is problematic, and so it sends me back to the self. To say that women are this and man are that seems false. The vast variety of humanity defies such simple binaries, or something.
I find categorization problematic also, and yet, like you, find myself frequently falling into it. In asking how you define self, I wasn't necessarily looking for binaries, but rather this whole self that you have in mind. I think of the end of The Breakfast Club here: "You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal." Your dissatisfaction with these kinds of labels is not necessarily surprising as it has been in our cultural consciousness for some time. And yet, like you, I'm surprised that "the soul," something that has been in our cultural conscious for basically ever, is also an idea that you're holding onto. Not because it's something that I think is wrong or false or stupid, but because I have (personally) known you to be a fairly anti-spiritual, anti-religious. Why do you think you hold onto this idea of the soul? And how do you think this aligns with your sense of spirituality/religion?
I think I struggle a little with what I think I mean. To refine my thoughts on the self, I'll mention that I like David Hume's 'bundle of sensations'. This idea that all one can know about self, or anything else, is your body's feedback as interpreted by your brain, all of this seated then in flesh and electrical connections via neurons or something. My experience of my self is constantly changing however I feel like there is core, a starting point perhaps, that is not completely blank, from which the self is constantly created and modified and annihilated or something. I probably sound like a half-drunk Evergreen partier somewhere in Olympia, WA, perhaps The Voyeur. I consider myself agnostic. In almost all things I prefer firsthand evidence before drawing conclusions. This leads me to believe that most things are unknowable. The other day my boss mentioned that I have problem 'tooting my own horn.' We were discussing my unwillingness to make blanket assertions without fact. He said I have a low 'bullshit tolerance'. Which is a negative if you're trying to sell something (or sell yourself to someone). By all of this, I mean that I don't feel like any evidence based analysis will lead me to religion or spirituality, however I don't find science based explanations for existence etc... to be particularly compelling either. But from the few people I've come to know well, I do observe a basic core, which I'm calling the self. Amber is always Amber no matter how she changes. So to with my wife Sarah, and seemingly with our daughter. It's certainly possible that this is all an illusion created by my brain which then allows me to exist seamlessly in the world, but I hope not.
I like bundles of sensations. And the idea that we might exist seamlessly in the world. How do you see your writing related to this sense of spirituality, this bundle of sensations, this seamless existence in the world? Do you think your writing is a part of this self/spirit? How is it always you? How has it changed over time?
I hesitate somehow at the word 'spirituality', perhaps because it indicates a cause or power outside of my self. I am very interested in the experience of existence, in the minutiae of sensation, thought, etc..., and I think this impacts writing. I'm particularly interested in the compartmentalization of the self, or levels of the self, how there is a work-me, home-me, among-friends-me, sporty-sports me, etc... T & T seems generally to follow themes of self and compartmentalization (maybe). I tend to like characters that have few filters for the raw data of existence. I think poems to some degree can (perhaps some kinds of poems can) provide an unfiltered window into to the raw data of existence. But this is my answer now, at 7:33 AM on Wednesday January 29th 2012, Leap Day. I enjoy the act of writing. I enjoy making things. This, I suppose, is some part of my self that has remained unchanged from say age five when I was certain I would be a journalist or writer. My conception of what it means to be 'a writer' has constantly and consistently metastasized and annihilated itself and reformed. As has my conception of my own 'self'. I'd say mostly this has resulted in an expansion of knowledge and changing of obsessions. As I am always changing, I can't recognize any fixed points, or starting points (or for that matter middles, or endings), but the best example I can give is perhaps that when I was a teenager, living in a trailer park just north of Seattle I thought that if I could just make $10/hour my life would be set--even in say 1992 dollars that was a ridiculous notion, but that is part of the me then that saw a family struggling forward almost successfully with far less.
That's very ontological of you. In my experience of you both as a person, interviewer, and writer, youtube plays a pretty consistent role. For example, I remember sitting in your living room watching rap battles on youtube, and fights from basketball games. But I've also watched poet interviews on youtube with you. So, as you asked me, I'll ask you. Please share with us some youtube videos. In this case, I'm interested in youtube videos that represent and/or correspond to your various selves. Youtube compartmentalizing.
Okay, so this has taken me closing in on two weeks to answer. I just spent about 30 minutes trying to put Carson to sleep. She is getting a single tooth which has disrupted her and our sleep patterns...
Here is an attempt at compartmentalizing via youtube:
sentimental, trailer-park-missing me, pining for hamburger helper:
imaginary work me:
getting along with middle class culture me:
actual work me (not me, but what I do):
You know, Office Space really nailed it on the head. Seriously. I feel that way every day. For example this morning the printer wouldn't print. You pressed print and nothing happened. I wanted to go all gangster on the HP no doubt.
For my final question, I want you to tell me about something that means something to you, and to do so baldly, without deflection or cleverness, without the insertion of sharp knives or zambonis. It can be anything. It should be true.
At the outset, I'll say I felt depressed reading this question. I'm not 100% sure why. It's a difficult question, very broad. To some degree, it made me consider whether I deflect too much, with sarcasm or 'irony' or whatever. And because you know me so well, I thought for a while about how I tend to make it impossible for my friends and family to 'know me.' And I felt for a while like you were calling me out for this personality fault. I don't think that was your intent (don't fear), but perhaps this highlights the difference between my inner thoughts versus out personality projection. Before I actually answer your question (without trying to deflect), let me say that 'meaning' has always been a problematic term for my. It aligns in my brain with 'belief', another problematic term. I tend to operate 'believing' only things with which I have first person experience. I immediately suspect all else as one form of bullshit or another. This is a limiting perspective. Because of this, perhaps, family and friendship have the most meaning for me, developed over time with few people. My daughter, my partner, brothers, sister, maybe even my parents, you and the other madlib/dimlab folks, my buddy Kjell. But most of all my daughter. That I am here now to watch as she learns and as she becomes who she will be. And that I might contribute even a little to her personhood. There is no limit to what I would do for my daughter. I'm imagining some situation in which I'm forced to clip off each of my fingers in turn via kitchen shears until I must use my elbow and ribs to remove the final fingers. I'd do that. I'd do more.